Mr. Beaks Is Mentored By ROLE MODELS Director David Wain!
Published at: Nov. 3, 2008, 2:03 a.m. CST by mrbeaks
Never mind the mainstream-skewing trailers and TV spots: ROLE MODELS is unmistakably a David Wain film. Though far more conventional in concept and execution than anything he's done before, it's still got enough sweetness and vulgarity and STATE alums to remind you that you're watching a movie from the guy who did WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER. And since WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER is one of the best comedies of this decade, that's a very good thing.
Starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as a pair of immature energy drink reps who're court-ordered into a Big Brothers program after a spasm of very bad behavior, ROLE MODELS works because Wain and his co-writers (Rudd and Ken Marino) actually seem to have enjoyed the challenge of playing within the framework of an R-rated studio comedy. Basically, this was their chance to make the kind of movie they were affectionately lampooning with WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER - only, instead of a big camp talent show or sporting event, ROLE MODELS builds to a climactic Live-Action Role Playing (LARP) battle. And while you might expect them to mercilessly ridicule this fringe pursuit, they actually treat LARP-ers with a modicum of respect (so as not to look down on Rudd's protege, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Remember how invested you were in Chris Makepeace's cross-country run at the end of MEATBALLS (at least, the first time you saw it)? That's essentially what Wain pulls off with the finale of ROLE MODELS. And that's not easy.
For those of you worried that Wain might start playing it safe, his ongoing, clinically insane internet series, WAINY DAYS, suggests otherwise. And if Wain has to take a studio gig every now and then to finance the kind of lunacy that results in Elizabeth Banks making out with Alicia Witt... well, long may he whore!
In the below interview, I talk with Wain about the experience of working for a studio, dealing with irresponsible internet gossip, the glory of KISS, the state of THE STATE DVD, and the possibility that he'll one day make his INTERIORS. Since his last film was loosely based by THE DECALOGUE, I had to start with the obvious...
Mr. Beaks: I guess the obvious question is "Which Kieslowski film inspired ROLE MODELS?"
David Wain: (Laughs) RED.
Beaks: Damn. I was thinking DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE. So how did you enjoy the experience of making a studio comedy?
Wain: It was pretty fun, I have to say. I had some trepidation going in, no question about it, but a lot of my fears were unfounded in this particular instance. The people from the studio and the producers were actually smart, helpful people who contributed a lot to the film.
Beaks: Did it change your writing process?
Wain: It did insomuch as the project existed before any of us were involved. We came on and reshaped the movie and rewrote it in a way that made sense to us. But we were working in somewhat of a structure. You're working in a larger machine, and nothing is completely in a vacuum. The studio is weighing in, and the marketing department is involved in major decisions. But signing on to a studio production, I knew that would be the case; I assumed that would be a part of what you'd have to do.
Beaks: Does it affect how far you can push a joke?
Wain: It does, but we were never like, "Oh, god, I wish we could do this this way", or "I wish we could push this joke to this degree, but we can't because the studio won't let us." It wasn't like that at all because this movie from conception had always been a studio movie. Similarly, when we did the STELLA shorts on the internet and then did the STELLA series [on Comedy Central]... you know, we couldn't swear and we couldn't have dildos. But that was never a consideration because it was always conceived for TV. It was the same thing with [ROLE MODELS]: we were working with a vocabulary and a palette that was for this movie.
Beaks: I know the script existed before you came on, and that, for example, the Ronnie character was originally written for an older teen who was supposed to look like a grown man. That obviously changed. When you came in, did you guys sort of throw that draft away and start from scratch?
Wain: (Laughs) Well, not exactly. When I came on, Paul had already done one draft of the script. What we did together, then, was a partly-from-scratch thing: it was like, "What's this movie really about? What's the better way to get into it, and what characters are there aside from the main four?" And also, "What events happen in the first three-quarters of the script that take you to that battle?" Those were the things we [considered]. And, frankly, we started over again during the shoot; we kept going back to the drawing board in a way to make sure that the spine was there. It was a lot of work.
Beaks: Did you have a rating set?
Wain: It was always rated R. It was never a discussion.
Beaks: Okay. For some reason, I had heard differently.
Wain: Well, there was this odd review recently on Ain't It Cool that said "It's too bad this is PG-13. What a shame." And we were like, "What!?!?"
Beaks: You know what? I posted that reader review. That was me going off of bad information.
Beaks: Oh, no, that's my fault! Someone I trusted told me that the film had been softened for a PG-13, and I wrote that in the intro to the review.
Wain: Yeah, no version of this film was anything other than rated R.
Beaks: I'm sorry for any confusion. That was inexcusable.
Wain: I'm sorry, too, and I think it's time to move on.
Beaks: (Laughing) Fair enough. Now, bringing something like the LARP culture into a movie like this, there's an expectation that you're going to ridicule it. But you treat it with a commendable level of affection.
Wain: Thank you. That was definitely what we were trying to do. When I first heard the idea, I was like, "Oh, my god, we can make fun of this!" But like Paul's character, I went through a journey where the more I learned about it, the more awesome it was. I grew an enormous amount of affection for these people and this pursuit, and I tried to communicate that in the movie.
Beaks: Did you have a LARP technical advisor?
Wain: We did. We had a woman named Adrian who was a major role player. She was on set during those scenes, and she helped us with learning about it. We also went to some LARP-related events, and researched, researched, researched.
Beaks: Who was responsible for Joe Lo Truglio's Old English dialogue?
Wain: That is courtesy 100% of Mr. Joe Lo Truglio. His character on the page was all but non-existent. But he just came in and came up with a take. Most everything that he said was improvised.
Beaks: This being a studio comedy, was it harder to work in the folks from THE STATE?
Wain: Certainly the main goal wasn't to shoehorn anyone into it. It was more just that we had this movie with a constellation of funny characters, and let's cast each role with the funniest person possible. In many cases, for my money, those are people from my group. Everyone brought in their own ideas and their own shtick.
Beaks: Since you pretty much broke Elizabeth Banks in WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, does she owe you for life?
Wain: (Laughing) Yeah, that's why she makes out with me from time to time.
Beaks: That's not a bad racket.
Wain: But, no, I'm super lucky to have an association with her. She's totally awesome.
Beaks: What was up with that Louis C.K. cameo in the scene where they wreck the energy drink truck? We only see him in that long shot. Was there something more to his character?
Wain: There was, and it'll be on the DVD. It's the scene where they arrive at that school before the last speech, and Louis C.K., in a very funny way, tells them that they can't park there. The scene was cut for pacing; it was so early in the movie, and we really wanted to get to the kids as soon as possible.
Beaks: Whose idea was it to incorporate KISS into the film?
Wain: That was largely my idea. I was definitely a huge KISS fan, and so was Paul. Actually, one of the executives on the film was a big KISS fan, too. But that was my suggestion as something that Ronnie and Wheeler might bond over for different reasons. First we wrote the scene where Wheeler tells Ronnie about KISS - and we had different iterations of how that might play in other parts of the movie. But then we realized that it might be a fun way to tie all four characters together.
Beaks: KISS is just one of those touchstones for Gen X-ers...
Wain: I just found out today that Gene Simmons is coming to the premiere.
Beaks: Nice! Will this be the first time that you've met Gene Simmons?
Wain: Yes, it'll be quite a thrill.
Beaks: That's cool. God, I remember when they did that TV movie. I was, like, five when I saw that, and for many years afterwards I labored under the misapprehension that they were superheroes.
Wain: (Laughing) I was just telling someone else today that I was probably a huge fan of KISS before I ever listened to their music. I feel like this movie is something of a sequel to KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK.
Beaks: I hadn't put that together before, but now that you mention it... yes, thematically, it's all there. Seriously, though, you're a fan of cinema--
Wain: Well, I like cinema. I don't know if I'm a "fan". I like TOOTSIE, for example.
Beaks: (Laughing) But the references that you sprinkle throughout your work, it's obvious that you're very film literate.
Wain: Thank you.
Beaks: So knowing that, I have to ask: when are you going to make your INTERIORS?
Wain: It's funny you say that. I really do want to make my INTERIORS. And I think I will at some point. I don't have it yet, but for a long time I was supposed to be the director on this movie we did called DIGGERS. I love that film, and I love that script. I developed it with Ken for a long time with the intent of being the director, but then STELLA was picked up, so we got a different director. But that was going to be my stab at drama.
You know, there's a growing part of me that wants to do something non-comedic.
Beaks: And you'll know when the right project comes along?
Wain: Yes, and hopefully it'll be received better than INTERIORS. Which I love.
Beaks: Are there any more seasons of WAINY DAYS on the way?
Wain: I don't know. It's a question of time and... basically time, really. (Laughs) My schedule is really nutty, but we did twenty-six [episodes], so there's plenty to enjoy. We're also working on a potential television version of it.
Beaks: How time consuming is a show like that?
Wain: It usually takes me an hour or two to write it, and, on average, we usually shoot two a day. Editing takes some time, definitely, but I would do a lot of the editing on my laptop before I went to bed or at lunch. I also have great people working with me. Since I was doing ROLE MODELS at the time, I brought in other people to the writing and some of the directing, and we had editors working on it.
Beaks: You certainly did very well with rounding up guest stars.
Wain: The great fun of anything I do is the chance to bring in great, cool, funny people.
Beaks: There's been a great deal of anticipation out there for THE STATE DVD and, perhaps, a reunion. I know there was something in the works with Comedy Central, but--
Wain: The update is this: I'm pretty sure we're doing a live show of all-new material at the San Francisco Sketchfest in January. The entire group will be there. And we still have loose plans to do a Comedy Central special of some kind sometime next year. The TV series DVD has been finished and ready to go for two years, and is being held by MTV. We are told they will be releasing it sometime in '09.
Beaks: Is that a music clearance issue?
Wain: No, that's been cleared up. We did have to replace some of the music - which is tragic, but a reality. The DVD is ready to go, but the problem is that the DVD market in general is very tough right now and sort of dictated by Wal-Mart. Frankly, the real reason is that there is no reason: they should release it, and I think they're going to.
Beaks: So what's up next for you?
Wain: I do this voice every week on Adult Swim's SUPERJAIL! I've got two or three scripts I'm writing, and other projects I'm developing separately for features. I'm also working on this WAINY DAYS television project, and I'm going on tour with STELLA in November. I don't know which thing is going to be the next big project yet.
Beaks: But you really do want to move forward as a filmmaker?
Wain: Absolutely. (Laughs) I'm still not ready... I mean, it's so hard making a movie, and I'm still tired from it. I have a ten-month-old boy, so I'm still in the mode of taking a breather for a second. But I will get back on the horse.
Beaks: Visually, do you see yourself settling on a style? Do you incorporate stuff from other directors?
Wain: Visually? Yeah. Frankly, with this one we were moving so fast that I didn't have the opportunity or time to develop much visually. One of my regrets is not doing more visually with ROLE MODELS than we did. I do like how it looks, but I always feel like I don't know enough about directing the frame. I'm always reading books, and studying movies and directors. But I really learned a lot about directing by watching Michael Patrick Jann on THE STATE. I'd love to develop my visual style more.
Hopefully, ROLE MODELS will make a bundle of money, and he'll have the opportunity to do that. You can do your part by checking out this very funny movie starting Friday, November 7th. And when you've some time to kill, there's always WAINY DAYS at MyDamnChannel.